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Opinions and Rhetorical Force
Transcript of Opinions and Rhetorical Force
I borrow the term "opinion" from Gorgias to describe a preexisting set of beliefs and emotions concerning a certain topic:
“So that on most subjects most men take opinion as counselor to their soul, but since opinion is slippery and insecure it casts those employing it into slippery and insecure successes” -Gorgias, Encomium of Helen
We might think of rhetorical force as the force needed to slow, alter, or reverse the direction of an opinion.
The Role of the Rhetorician
A skilled rhetorician can deliver a speech which,
"merging with opinion in the soul, the power of the incantation is wont to beguile it and persuade it and alter it by witchcraft" Gorgias, Encomium of Helen
There are three characteristics we might keep in mind when discussing opinion, and to help describe these characteristics, I will borrow a few mathematical metaphors.
Direction refers to the leanings of one's views on a particular subject: for or against, right or left, etc.
On taxation, I lean left and a little up.
Speed refers to the strength of the belief or emotion.
At 300 meters per second, I feel very strongly about marriage equality.
Together, speed and direction equal
Mass refers to the centrality of a belief or emotion within one's worldview
Since my worldview would crumble if genders were shown not to be socially constructed, that opinion is very massive.
Since in mathematics, force = mass x acceleration, we might think of the rhetorical force needed to slow, alter, or reverse an opinion as being equal to the opinions mass multiplied by the desired acceleration.
Therefore, a central (very massive) opinion would be much more difficult to alter, slow, or reverse.
Likewise, much more force will be required to reverse the direction of an opinion than to simply alter or slow an opinion.
In contrast, a
relatively small amount
of force is required to accelerate an opinion in the same direction, and such acceleration may be enough
to trigger strong emotion
and/or inspire action.
This merging with opinion is essential. It is the role of the rhetorician to identify and exploit the velocity and mass of opinion
While reversing a less massive opinion may be possible,
Altering the direction of an opinion might be feasible for a single rhetorical force,
and over time, the efforts of multiple rhetorical forces might significantly alter an opinion's direction.
When trying to slow an opinion's speed, a direct approach may produce a jarring result.
While such a jarring approach may reverse the direction of the opinion, it is more likely to make the opinion seem more central (because it is under attack) and, therefore, more massive.
Thus, it may be wiser to use a less direct, more frictive approach to decreasing an opinion's velocity.
attempting to reverse the direction of a more massive opinion with a single rhetorical force may be unwise.
Such opinions can be reversed, however, either by first slowing them or by gradually altering the direction. Both approaches require a multitude of rhetorical forces applied over a period of time.
The Nature of Opinions
These opinions are, themselves, the result of a multitude of rhetorical forces applied over time.
It would, therefore, be unwise to assume that such opinions can be altered by a single or a few rhetorical force(s).
Even changing one's own opinions requires the persistent application of rhetorical forces over a period of time.
Thus, overcoming internalized shame in a culture of stigma (rhetorical forces in the same direction of the shame) is a process that may take what seems like an inordinate period of time.
If, however, the change in direction is for the better, it is worth the effort.